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Direct-to-Consumer Advertising Linked to Changes in Medication Use Among People with Serious Mental Illness


People with serious mental illness exposed to direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of medications are more likely to stop taking their medications than those not exposed to the advertising, according to new research published in Psychiatric Services in Advance.

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DTCA by pharmaceutical companies significantly increased after the Food and Drug Administration changed guidelines for advertising in 1997. Previous research on advertising for prescription medications has focused mostly on whether it contributes to more people requesting the medications and more physicians prescribing them. In fact, when people are less likely to see the medication once they learn about side effects from advertising. Previous research has also found consumers often have difficulty interpreting risk information about prescription drugs.

New research, led by Charee E. Green, L.C.P.C., of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, explores whether hearing a long list of side effects in consumer advertising discourages people with serious mental illness from using medication they are taking. The study found a significant association between exposure to medication advertising and stopping or changing medication use.


Nearly half, 48 percent, of the study’s nearly 250 participants reported exposure to the advertising. Among those exposed to medication advertising, 61 percent reported not taking or cutting back their medication compared to 26 percent of those not exposed to the advertising. The typical patient exposed to DTCA spends far more time watching, reading or listening to this advertising than in face-to-face communication with his/her health care provider, according to previous research.

Among those exposed to the advertising and making medication changes, most (59 percent) reported that they stopped or changed how they took their medications specifically because of side-effect information. Most of these people did not wait to speak to their physician before making the changes.

Green and colleagues point to several potential problems when patients stop taking medications without consulting with their health care provider, including increased use of emergency services and increased hospitalizations. The authors encourage more communication between patients and health care providers, especially about medications and side-effects.


  1. Amoozegar, JB, et al. Consumer confusion between prescription drug precautions and side effects. Patient Education Counselingi>. 100(6):1111-1119
  2. Green, CE, et al. 2017. Exposure to Direct-to-Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising and Medication Nonadherence Among Patients with Serious Mental Illness. Psychiatric Services in Advance.


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